| 03.18.2018

Replacing a justice – The recent death of a Supreme Court justice generates fruitless political debate


The recent death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has caused a clash between political parties in the past few weeks.

Scalia was renowned for his outspoken nature and republican values. There are currently four conservative and four liberal Supreme Court justices.

Scalia”s sudden death opens up a vacancy on the bench, and whoever fills it will sway the court to the left or right side of the political spectrum.

Jessica Gee

According to the Constitution, the current president is allowed to nominate someone in the case of a vacancy on the Supreme Court and the Senate must approve the nominee. However, like any political process, it is messy and will likely be dragged out for as long as possible.

Currently, there is an ongoing debate between Republicans and democrats about whether President Barack Obama should nominate a judge to replace Scalia before the end of his term. A lot of Republicans argue – for obvious reasons – that America should wait until the next president is elected before replacing Scalia on the court.

According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Waiting until the upcoming election to fill the empty spot would mean there would only be eight justices until January 2017 at the earliest, leaving the decisions in the meantime vulnerable to a tie. Not to mention, the American people voted Obama into office, so saying that the voice of Americans wouldn”t be represented if he selected a judge this year is simply untrue.

It”s important to point out that the process of replacing a Supreme Court justice is fairly unclear and inefficient. The Constitution gives the right to the president to nominate a judicial candidate, but the candidate must go through the Senate and be approved before they can start on the job.

Thus, it is up to our right-leaning Senate to bring in a new justice. But the Senate wants to wait for the next president so there will be a republican nominee. So the Senate gets to sit on its hands while candidates are thrown their way for the sake of partisanship.

Considering the Supreme Court only hears select cases and doesn”t often end with a close 5-4 vote, perhaps leaving the vacancy open isn”t such a terrible thing.

Obama will probably spend 2016 fighting to nominate a liberal judge and the Senate will fight for the chance to gain another conservative judge.

So at this point, which direction is the right one?

First of all, anyone who claims to be acting out of respect for the Constitution and out of fairness to the American people is being deceitful. This entire debate is a contentious tug-o-war between democrats and Republicans.

Perhaps instead of burying their heads in their own interests, these politicians should try to set an example of prompt action by going through the process now and approving a new justice. The next president may be a democrat anyway, and this entire debate will be completely useless.

I don”t think the process should be rushed just to get it over with, but the American people deserve an efficient government who puts the well-being of its people before party lines. Leaving the vacancy open only causes confusion for citizens and shows the lack of cooperation in the federal government – but it”s not like we didn”t know about that already.  

Jessica Gee can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @JessicaC_Gee

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